Despite the beer commercials, Cinco de Mayo is not the biggest day on the Mexican calendar. It's Independence Day on September 16th. One dish typifies it: chiles en nogada, created to recognize the three colors of the flag - red, green and white - the dish is being prepared with great precision at one Pilsen restaurant.
Mexican restaurants all over the city are gearing up for Independence Day on Tuesday. The mood is especially heightened in Pilsen, at places like Mundial Cocina Mestiza, where they're gearing up for a special celebration featuring the symbolic dish, known as chiles en nogada.
"The only reason they chose these ingredients, was to symbolize the color of the actual flag of independence," said Mario Cota, owner of Mundial Cocina Meztisa.
So the green comes from poblano peppers, which must first be charred over a grill to loosen the skins.
Meanwhile, ground pork and beef are seasoned with cloves and cumin, plus sherry, and everything is incorporated well by hand.
In a large skillet, the chef sautees onions and garlic, before adding that ground beef and pork mixture. Over on the grill, the poblanos are turned to char evenly.
"There has to be a balance of the actual sweetness and the heat, and it also, you have to remove the seeds really well," said Cota.
Back to the skillet, a number of ingredients are added, included freshly-chopped tomatoes, apples and fresh peaches.. along with some more of those spices.
The fruit onslaught continues: pears, juicy raisins and some almonds, which add some much-needed texture. The saute pan continues to get more crowded, but the various ingredients are adding depth. Now comes cooked plantains for a note of sweet starch, plus a bit more sherry.
By this time, the charred poblanos have been removed and the skins are easily peeled away. Once the stuffing has cooled, it's placed into each poblano.
Now it's time for the white element, which comes in the form of a walnut sauce; it's essentially a puree of walnuts, milk, cream cheese and sour cream.
The sauce is ladled over the top of the stuffed poblano, and finally, for that important red component: pomegranate seeds. Cota says the dish is not only symbolic, it also appeals to a wide audience.
"It's more a savory-sweet dish, rather than, it can be eaten by anyone," Cota said.
Also on wednesday, the pilsen chamber of commerce hosts its annual "buen provecho pilsen," with more than 30 restaurants offering samples of their food from 5:30 - 9:30 p.m.
Mundial Cocina Mestiza
1640 W. 18th St.
Buen Provecho Pilsen
Sept. 16, 5:30 - 9:30 pm
30 restaurants along 18th St. offer samples of their food